Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to third reading of Bill S-228, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children).
I feel very strongly compelled to speak on this topic because of what I have seen in my home territory of Nunavut. In February of this year I attended the Kitikmeot Trade Show in Cambridge Bay, a community in the western region of Nunavut. While I was there, my attention was caught by a familiar bright red and white sign belonging to a very popular brand of cola on the trade show floor. I had the opportunity to speak to the manager of sales for that region and understood from her that her employer was hoping to increase the sale of all products under that same parent company, each one full of sugar and incredibly unhealthy.
The next day, I was horrified to see the local school children being led through the trade show floor in groups. They were given bags to fill with free pens, magnets and other paraphernalia that are often handed out at these events. I watched as a group of children about the age of five were walked past the booth in question. Each child was given multiple items branded with this company’s logo.
Senators, we all know that branding is a powerful tool, and those children will likely be thrilled to have a drink that matches the logo on their new trinkets.
In an effort to make the sale of these products attractive to vendors, I was told that this company created a special discounted tier for the northern region to alleviate the costs for those stores that would otherwise find the wholesale price of soda prohibitive. It costs a retailer $18 for a pack of 12 cans of pop, and at many retailers, each can is sold for $3. So for every $18 they spend, retailers are doubling their money, making a profit of $18 on each pack.
Three dollars for a can of pop may seem like a lot to people living in the South, but people will pay and do pay because sugar is addictive. In the North, it can drive people to go to extreme lengths to satisfy their craving. There comes a point every year when some popular items begin to get hard to find. The sealift order from the previous year has started to run out and many are forced to wait until the spring for the next shipment of supplies to come into town. This has led to, believe it or not, online auctions of pop via Facebook.
In a CBC North news article from May 30, 2016, it was reported that one lot consisting of one 355-millitre can and two 500-millitre bottles sold for $52. Another lot consisting of three 355-millitre cans was won for $35. The winner, a 16-year-old boy, told reporters that he was prepared to go as high as $60. His rationale? “It’s worth it,” he said. “There’s no pop in the stores. I love drinking pop.” He even admitted that he sometimes trades cigarettes for a can of cola.
By the way, stores in Nunavut routinely sell stale-dated pop. This is because it takes roughly a year between the delivery of tens of thousands of cases of this effervescent sugary syrup. So by mid-winter, this pop is beyond its manufacturer’s six-month best before date.
The two big retailers routinely cast a blind eye to the stale pop because the population is addicted. No one scrutinizes the fine print on the date of manufacture, and the profit margins on pop are so high they are reluctant to deliver pop by expensive air freight. So the pop consumed voraciously by Nunavut’s youth rots their teeth, is nutritionally harmful and, on top of that, is stale-dated about half the time.
Colleagues, the Government of Nunavut is keenly aware of the health epidemic this is contributing to. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, the prevalence of diabetes in indigenous populations is at least three times higher than non-indigenous populations. That is of particular concern to a territory whose population is 85 per cent Inuit.
Indigenous populations are also at a higher risk for prediabetes, overweight and obesity, and developing Type 2 diabetes at a younger age. Indigenous women are also at a higher risk for developing gestational diabetes.
In response to this, public health officials introduced a program in schools called “Drop the Pop.” Since 2005, schools have initiated a five-day program that encourages students to seek alternatives to pop when they’re thirsty. Those who abstain for all five days are eligible to win prizes such as sports equipment.
The big issue is that when kids, especially, drink a lot of pop they fill up easily.
“It has very few of the nutrients that kids need to grow up healthy,”’ said Amy Caughey, a nutritionist with the Nunavut government.
Tooth decay is another significant problem in Nunavut. In 2013, the Canadian Institute for Health Information gathered data from children aged one to five from hospitals from across the country. The data showed Nunavut had the highest rates of dental surgery for preschoolers in the country, followed by N.W.T. and Saskatchewan. Dental surgery rates were highest in communities with a higher number of Aboriginal families. According to the Nunavut health department, 500 children under the age of five in Nunavut have dental surgery every year at a cost of $1,000 per child for the surgery alone. That’s half a million dollars, and it doesn’t include the cost of travel or accommodation if the child has to be sent out of the territory, as they often do.
Honourable senators, this is unacceptable. The health and well-being of our children must be at the centre of our laws and policies. This is why I’m voting in support of Bill S-228 and why I support prohibiting the marketing of food and beverages to children. I hope you will do so, too.